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Minor league realignment won’t affect Pride events, officials say

The sweeping changes to MiLB affect teams with successful inclusion efforts.

Durham Bulls Pride Event in 2019. It was among many that flourished in smaller Minor League markets that led to a planned, but cancelled surge in 2020.
WRAL-TV

The 2021 season will look different in minor league baseball, as MLB looks to streamline its developmental season. But these changes won’t affect teams’ Pride-related celebrations.

There’s been an expansion of Pride promotions across MiLB in recent years. Last season, 85 events were planned for 81 cities before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the season.

One Minor League Baseball official says reorganization will not mean retrenchment. “As far a Pride Nights or any promotions, the teams will have the flexibility to do whatever the want,” Minor League Baseball Senior Director of Communications Jeff Lantz told Outsports, “Diversity, inclusion and acceptance are important to baseball. I wouldn’t anticipate seeing any kind of a decrease of movement away from those kind of events and I expect to see Major League Baseball support those kind of events.”

MLB has taken an active role in diversity engagement, including aiding individual clubs in organizing the events. The efforts have led to watershed promotions in 2018 and 2019. In a May interview with our “3 Strikes and You’re Out” podcast, MiLB Specialist for Diversity & Inclusion Ben Pereira noted how much MLB’s commitment helped.

“The league made it a focus, created and initiative and provided the resources and the toolkits for this clubs to be able to host these nights. There were a lot of clubs for the last five years that had a Pride Night on their minds, but they axed it because they were concerned about doing it effectively. They were concerned about offending, and concerned about creating any negative media attention. Once they the toolkits, resources and empowerment from Minor League Baseball HQ office to take this on and having the guidance of the league office reassured some of our teams and that is why we had such a big increase.”

The Lexington Legends were a crowning Pride event in the 2019 season, but will it continue wherever the franchise lands in 2021?
Lexington Legends

MLB’s support helped build successes such as the Lexington Legends. Last year, the former Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals put together a pride night that Pereira said, “blew the other teams out of the water.” Nearly $20,000 was raised for local LGBTQ+ organizations.

Also consider the Jersey Shore BlueClaws. Their plans for a Pride Night were met with a small, vocal anti-protest that turned into skirmish. The BlueClaws pressed ahead and held their event. MiLB’s public support for the effort led the BlueClaws to press ahead for 2020.

The former Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees saw its first-ever Pride event canceled in 2020. Next season, they will be a part of an Appalachian League, and will become a showcase slate for top collegiate freshman and sophomore players.

A source close to MLB told Outsports it’s unknown whether a congruent effort will come directly from MLB, or if teams will be encouraged to make their own plans moving forward. The source pointed to MLB Vice President and Special Assistant to the Commissioner Billy Bean as a potential bright spot. Bean has been a strong voice for inclusion since coming out himself in 1999, and has worked closely with a number of minor league teams on the issue in the past.

The hope is that the work and impact that Pereira noted this past spring continues.